Speed reduction row intensifies

District chiefs have turned their guns on the Viennese government over its plans to turn all residential areas into 30-kilometre-per-hour (kph) limit zones.

The coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Green Party of Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou agreed after partnering up last year to increase the number of 30 kph limit streets in the city. Now Vassilakou and Greens traffic issues spokesman Rüdiger Maresch presented precise plans. All roads in residential areas of the capital where drivers are not allowed to go faster than 50 kph will soon become 30 kph zones, according to the Kurier newspaper.

Maresch told Die Presse newspaper today (Thurs) that the number of 30 kph limit areas would be increased in the coming two years. The left-winger promised that district leaders would have the final word on the project but warned: “They will also have to argue every traffic fatality if they disagree with our plans. (…) Every pedestrian killed by a car is one too many.”

The Greens claimed the envisaged measures would increase the quality of life in Vienna as well as traffic safety standards. The Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ), which backs the plans, stressed that around three in four people who lost their lives on Austria’s roads in 2010 were pedestrians. The organisation explained: “The overall number of traffic deaths dropped by 28 per cent from 2005 (to 552 in 2010), but the number of killed pedestrians remained the same.”

Some heads of the capital’s 23 districts branded the one-million-Euro traffic concept as an “act of caprice”. People’s Party (ÖVP) official Adolf Tiller, who heads the district of Döbling, was unequivocal, underlining that he opposed the plans. Tiller added he could imagine holding a referendum in his district over the issue to disclose the opinion of residents. ÖVP and SPÖ leaders of numerous other districts are highly critical as well, according to Die Presse.

The Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) Viennese branch called on the city coalition to do more about protecting zebra crossings and school children instead of turning all streets close to housing estates into 30 kph limit zones. Motorists’ association ÖAMTC announced it feared that danger zones would be hardly recognisable if all streets except main roads become 30 kph areas.

The Kurier refers to a study carried out on traffic in Graz. Driving faster than 30 kph is prohibited in Austria’s second-most populous city for years. According to the investigation, the measure helped reduce the number of accidents. No significant improvements were experienced as far as noise reduction and a better protection of the environment are considered.

News that the Viennese government has waded into controversy by turning all streets but main roads into 30 kph limit areas comes shortly after it named Martin Blum as Vienna’s first ambassador for cycling. The VCÖ official beat almost 500 other applicants to take the newly created position in November. He will head a three-member committee.

The government hopes Blum will help improve the coexistence of cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Many bikers have criticised drivers for failing to watch out for them when they take bends or during overtaking manoeuvres. Motorists and pedestrians have hit out at cyclists over their allegedly reckless behaviour including using pavements and ignoring one-way road regulations.

Blum is expected to present concepts how the city could get more people to switch from cars to bicycles. Cycling takes a share of just six per cent in overall traffic at the moment. Social Democrats and Greens explained they wanted to create circumstances under which a two-digit stake could be achieved.